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Australia creates 2300 jobs per day as economy bounces back




Almost 2300 jobs were created every day in March as the economy once again exceeded expectations.

More than 70,000 Australians found new jobs over the month – equating to 2280 every day – as the unemployment rate fell from 5.8 per cent to 5.6 per cent.

The underemployment rate also fell to its lowest level since June 2014 – indicating that employers have greater confidence in the economy and are giving staff more hours as a result.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the ABS jobs figures were “another proof point of Australia’s economic recovery gaining momentum”.

Economists at ANZ and Commonwealth Bank described them as “very strong” and “incredibly strong” respectively, coming just one day after a closely followed index of consumer sentiment hit an 11-year high.

The one obvious downside was the loss of 21,000 full-time jobs, which were offset by 91,500 new part-time positions.

But Indeed APAC economist Callam Pickering said the longer-term trend in full-time jobs growth was a positive one.

“We’ve seen such strong full-time job increases in the previous five months, where 360,000 full-time jobs were created, that I’m just not that surprised that we saw a relatively small dip in March,” Mr Pickering told The New Daily.

“I wouldn’t read too much into it,” he said.

The data shows that more Australians had jobs and more hours were worked across the economy in March than in March 2020, with female participation – or the proportion of working-age women either with a job or looking for one – increasing to a historic high of 61.8 per cent and overall participation hitting a historic high of 66.3 per cent.

What remains unclear, though, is how the removal of JobKeeper has affected the labour market.

Treasury officials estimate up to 150,000 people could have lost their jobs when the wage subsidy ended on March 28, but the latest figures do not capture this as they refer to the first half of the month only.

Equity Economics lead economist Dr Angela Jackson believes JobKeeper’s removal will lead to an uptick in unemployment in April – the data for which will be released a week after May 11’s federal budget.

But whoever needs to find a new job will at least be starting their search at a time of record-high job vacancies.

SEEK revealed on Thursday the number of job ads posted on its site in March was an all-time high – though ABS figures show there are still almost three unemployed Australians (778,100) for every one vacancy (288,700).

“Overall, it is good news. The economy has recovered well,” Dr Jackson said.

“The question is, ‘How does it go in the face of border closures in particular … and with the removal of fiscal stimulus over the next three to six months?’”

Border closures will bite

Dr Jackson said the pace of the economic recovery would slow down if international borders remained closed for the foreseeable future.

She told The New Daily some sectors relied heavily on migrant labour and would therefore struggle with skills shortages, which would weigh on the nation’s productivity.

“The ongoing closure of borders for another 12 months has to present a significant challenge to the economy over that period – the tourism sector won’t be able to recover, international education won’t be able to recover, and they are important employers and growth industries,” Dr Jackson said.

“On top of that, we won’t have those skilled migrants coming in again for another 12 months, plus you’ll start seeing more people leaving … as other economies roll out their vaccines.”

Notwithstanding the challenges, the strength of the labour market recovery, combined with the near complete removal of domestic restrictions, has put a smile back on the face of the average consumer.

The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment hit an 11-year high in April in what Westpac chief economist Bill Evans described as “an extraordinary result”.

He said the survey disproved initial fears that the unwinding of JobKeeper would undermine confidence.

More ambition needed

But the confidence boost is unlikely to materially improve the nation’s record-low wages growth.

Wages grew by just 1.4 per cent over the 12 months to December 31, and Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe believes we are unlikely to get a decent pay rise until unemployment falls to 4 per cent, something that hasn’t happened since 2008.

“Returning to where we were before the crisis – we’ve got there before we expected. But the economy wasn’t travelling that well before the crisis,” Mr Pickering said.

“Most economists were talking about rate cuts even before the pandemic hit, so merely getting back to where we were isn’t really where we want to be.

“So I think the federal government does need to aim higher.”

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‘Mountain of equity’: Millions of home owners could save thousands





If you’ve become a home owner in the past five years it might be worth getting an appraisal – you’re probably sitting on a “mountain of equity”.

As we’re all aware, house prices have soared lately. And while that’s bad news for rapidly worsening inequality, it also means those that do own a home could save money on their mortgages, upgrade their properties or even borrow to finance that renovation they’ve been wanting to get done.

Refinancing could save you thousands in interest repayments a year.

You’ll be in a particularly strong position if you’ve also been able to keep up with your mortgage repayments during COVID, because you now own a larger proportion of a house that has rapidly increased in value lately.

It’s a virtuous cycle that’s making the gap between the haves and have-nots much larger in Australia by pushing up property prices even faster.

Owner occupiers have been the keystone of the latest property boom, with most being existing owners upgrading their homes.

Who could blame them? RateCity research published this week finds an owner occupier in Sydney who bought at the median price in 2019 with a 20 per cent deposit has now seen their wealth increase by $402,000.

Apply the same conditions to Melbourne and wealth has risen $192,000.

This assumes property owners kept up with their mortgage repayments, which the majority of home owners have done while working from home and taking part in a $300 billion government cash splash during COVID.

“Millions of homeowners are sitting on a growing mountain of equity, some without even realising it,” RateCity research director Sally Tindall said.

How to benefit

If you’re in this situation, getting the value of your home appraised could be the first step to a better home loan or moving up the property ladder.

“If you’ve owned your own home for at least a couple of years, and have been diligent about paying down your debt, you could refinance to a lower rate,” Ms Tindall said.

“Lots of lenders offer interest rate discounts to new customers with loan-to-value ratios below 70 per cent, including ‘big four’ banks CBA and Westpac.”

What’s a loan-to-value ratio? Put simply, it’s the difference between the size of your home loan and the value of your property.

So, as an example, if your home is worth $1 million and your mortgage is $100,000 you have a loan-to-value ratio (LVR) of 10 per cent.

The lower your LVR the easier it will be to refinance your loan at a lower interest rate or borrow more to purchase a higher-value property.

First home buyers might also be able to remove the guarantor on their loan sooner than they thought because of rapidly increasing prices.

About 58 per cent of the lowest variable interest rates available are open only to those with deposits of 30 per cent or more, RateCity said.

In other words, rising property prices may have moved you into the club of home owners that can achieve lower interest rates on their mortgages.

A median Sydney property purchased on an 80 per cent LVR in 2019 could now be refinanced on an LVR as low as 55 per cent.

If those conditions are applied in Melbourne, LVR falls to 63 per cent.


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Here’s why Australians won’t be hit by the soaring gas prices we’re seeing overseas





Australians have dodged the bullet of skyrocketing gas prices currently hitting consumers in Europe and Asia.

While prices in the major gas hubs of those regions have spiralled up by a factor of five, in Australia a brief spike eased in September.

That means local consumers won’t be facing big jumps in household bills into next year.

Australian gas prices jumped in June and July after outages at coal-fired power plants in Victoria and Queensland boosted demand for gas generation.

That spike was short lived due to warm weather in some states and lockdowns in Victoria and NSW eroding demand, according to research by EnergyQuest.

“You’ve had warmer weather though the major capitals, the effects of the lockdowns and increased renewables, which reduced the demand for gas generation,” EnergyQuest CEO Graeme Bethune said.

Power prices fell

Those factors have also fed into power prices, with electricity costs falling in September in comparison with a year earlier.

What is interesting about the table above is that not only did average power prices drop, but the peak price charged by generators when power is in short supply also dropped.

That was despite the ongoing problems at the Victorian and Queensland power generators.

Part of the explanation is that there is increased output from renewables as rooftop solar grew, and new wind and solar generation came online.

That meant that gas power was called on less often to meet peak demand, which in turn held down power prices.

The inverse was true in Europe, where a 20 per cent fall in wind output over recent months helped run down gas supplies, contributing to the price spike, Mr Bethune said.

The future of power prices in part will depend on renewable output.

“If the wind blows strongly and there is plenty of sunshine across eastern Australia then it will keep pressure off gas prices,” Mr Bethune said.

The influence of renewables across the system in the last year is evident in this chart on power supplies.

Although wind has been stable in terms of its contribution to the power equation, outputs from hydro, solar farms and rooftop solar have risen.

The result is that coal has been pushed down from 65 per cent of power production to a record low of 60 per cent and that should help hold down both gas and electricity costs.

Even if offshore gas prices continue to spike Australian gas producers would not be in a position to push up local prices to match it.

“A lot of the export contracts for LNG [liquified natural gas] out of Queensland are set against the oil price and that has not risen by anywhere near the amount gas had,” Mr Bethune said.

“Then you have the federal government which has made clear to LNG exporters that they need to make enough gas available to the local market.

“They’re doing that regardless of the fact that they could make more money in the export market.”

Domestic users are supplied from long term contracts that cannot be easily changed when gas prices rise, so that would be another brake on prices.

However, while it is comforting to know local gas prices won’t spike to offshore levels, Australian consumers are still not getting as good a deal on prices as they should be, according to Bruce Mountain, Director of Victoria Energy Policy Centre at Victoria University.

“For small customers the gas price is not the big deal. The biggest things are the operation of the retail market and the costs levied by the owners of the gas-distribution pipes,” Professor Mountain said.

“Gas supply has been very profitable for the big gas companies.”

That was in part because consumers don’t bargain-hunt for retailers, and the charges levied to use the pipes and wires of the energy distributors are too high.

Regulators set these charges and could crack down on them but don’t, Professor Mountain said.

Since privatisation margins earned in energy distribution have increased dramatically.

Power distributor AusNet Services, under takeover offers from two groups, “is currently making a margin of 19 per cent – they’re far too profitable,” Professor Mountain said.

When power was distributed by [the state-owned] SECV there was a margin of 3 per cent on sales, Professor Mountain said.

Household power bills could be 15 per cent cheaper if the distribution businesses were less profitable, he said, with the situation similar for the gas sector.

But the move away from gas as a household fuel, necessary to reduce greenhouse emissions, will help deliver cheaper energy.

“Devices that use gas [for household tasks] are much less efficient that those using electricity,” Professor Mountain said.

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Scott Morrison talked Glasgow, China with News Corp boss over ‘after-dinner drinks’





Prime Minister Scott Morrison discussed the Glasgow climate summit, China and the Biden administration with News Corp executives in New York last month, the company’s global boss has told a Senate inquiry.

Appearing before a Senate probe into media diversity via video link on Friday, News Corp’s global chief executive Robert Thomson revealed he spoke with the PM about international affairs over “after-dinner drinks”.

Mr Morrison was in New York to represent Australia at United Nations’ talks.

Mr Thomson told the inquiry on Friday he presumed the PM wanted to meet because he knew “many” world leaders attending the UN summit.

“I had presumed he wanted some insight about some foreign policy matters,” Mr Thomson said.

Mr Thomson confirmed Mr Morrison didn’t meet News chairman Rupert Murdoch while in New York. He also claimed there was no discussion of the looming federal election.

Mr Thomson said the Glasgow summit came up “in passing” between the pair, but they didn’t talk about News Corp’s planned 16-page net-zero spread across its Australian publications, which has ignited a firestorm of criticism Down Under.

The main topics of discussion were Japan, China, Afghanistan and the “contours” of the Biden administration, Mr Thomson told the inquiry.

“The Prime Minister and I don’t necessarily agree on China,” he said.

Mr Thomson (on TV) said he presumed the PM wanted foreign policy insights. Photo: AAP

Mr Thomson was also asked by Labor senator Kim Carr about whether News Corp directed local editors to take positions on political issues.

Mr Thomson said News Corp’s New York executives had no involvement in recent features on net-zero carbon emissions and that its Australian editors weren’t told from the US what to write.

But he said the company did expect editors to operate within a certain philosophical framework.

“As a company, we have a philosophy about certain issues,” he said.

“We have a philosophy about individual freedom, about the role of the market, about the size of government.”

Mr Thomson said that – as a former editor – he had “discussions” with News Corp’s editors, but that they had a “large amount of local autonomy”.

Senator Carr and the inquiry’s chair, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, grilled the News Corp executive on the publisher’s track record on climate, accusing its Australian papers of platforming climate deniers for more than a decade.

But Mr Thomson said News Corp has been consistent on climate dating as far back as 2004, citing Mr Murdoch’s 2006 statement that the “planet deserves the benefit of the doubt”.

News Corp Australia has just finished a two-week campaign of climate coverage that included its major Australian mastheads running 16-page spreads about net-zero emissions.

The series had many critics, who argued News Corp had a long-held editorial hostility on climate action, including attacks on past Labor government policies targeting emission reduction efforts.

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